Those opposed to the sale of Peterborough Distribution Inc. (PDI) would love to be proclaiming “what a difference a week makes.”
Instead, they departed Market Hall severely disappointed late Thursday night as city council ratified, by an identical 6-5 vote, its December 7th committee decision to sell PDI to Hydro one.
Voting in favour of the sale were councillors Henry Clarke, Lesley Parnell, Dave Haacke, Andrew Beamer Dan McWilliams, and Mayor Daryl Bennett. Councillors Don Vassiliadis, Diane Therrien, Keith Riel, Dean Pappas, and Gary Baldwin voted against the sale.
Unlike the committee meeting held at Showplace, delegations were permitted and 26 speakers took to the podium — all but one against the sale. Among them was Peter Morgan, a member of the Save PDI Coalition.
“Hydro One is bleeding money all over the place and yet it can afford to buy us (PDI) and keep its promises … it doesn’t make any sense,” argued Mr. Morgan, urging council to delay any decision for six months and “answer some more questions” in the interim.
“What evidence is there that PDI will lose value if we keep it? I’ve heard this presented as fact but no information has been shown to make that true.”
Also lending his voice to the opposition was Roy Brady, chair of the local chapter of the Council of Canadians. He expressed a popular sentiment by asserting “democracy is being violated” by council moving ahead with the decision to sell PDI despite strong opposition to the move.
“What we have is a vote and, following that, people are effectively supposed to disappear. When they are consulted, they’re ignored. What we are getting, particularly with this PDI vote, is elitist governing.”
Also having their say were former provincial NDP election candidate Sheila Wood — “Privatization is based on profit driven by user fees” — and longtime activist Kathryn Langley — “It’s the rush that bothers me.”
But it was the presentation made by Michael Angemeer, CEO and president of Veridian Corporation, that raised yet another scenario — a merger between the municipally owned electricity distributor and PDI. Veridian is currently providing electricity delivery to 120,000 residential and business customers.
Mr. Angemeer noted Veridian wanted to submit a proposal to the City and, in fact, had written the City a letter requesting that opportunity, but no reply came back. Under questioning, he later noted that if the City is simply interested in getting money from an outright sale of PDI, it should do business with Hydro One.
Hydro One’s offer is $105 million for PDI, which will net about $55 million for the City after settling PDI’s debts, taxes, and costs related to the sale.
Hydro One has promised to reduce electricity distribution rates by one percent for existing PDI customers, freeze distribution rates for five years (with rate-of-inflation increases over the following five years), protect jobs for PDI employees for one year and build a new Hydro One operations centre and fleet maintenance garage in Peterborough, creating 30 new jobs while maintaining the 70 existing local Hydro One jobs.
City of Peterborough Holdings Inc. — the private corporation that owns PDI — recommended in October that the City accept the offer from Hydro One.
Prior to the vote on the motion to sell PDI, two attempts to delay a decision on the matter were made.
First, Coun. Pappas moved to defer the matter to allow staff the opportunity to explore the possibility of other possible buyers, saying “It’s not a good business deal if you’re only looking at one offer.” His motion was defeated by a 6-5 vote, with Coun. Clarke leading the charge.
“We are very well briefed and informed,” said Coun. Clarke. “We know of no other offers to purchase.”
Then Coun. Riel, saying “It’s high time we give power back to the people,” moved a motion calling for a referendum on the PDI sale come the October 2018 municipal election. That, too, was voted down.
Prior to voting on the motion to sell PDI, each councillor clarified his or her position. Noting that PDI is “making a steady and reliable income,” Coun. Baldwin argued that’s too good to walk away from.
“I don’t know why we’re selling an asset that makes us money,” he said.
Coun. Clarke, meanwhile, admitted to a mistrust of Hydro One but clarified his belief that this is a good deal for ratepayers.
After the vote, Coun. Parnell noted the debate on the sale “has definitely been the most emotional” of any matter discussed during her seven years on council.
“The idea went out so early in the year; there was this vacuum of about six months where we didn’t have an offer (from Hydro One) and the ‘No’ crowd really worked at getting the fear out there,” she said.
“In my heart, I really would have loved to voted ‘No’ but it wasn’t the correct financial decision to do so, in the short term or the long term. I was a ‘No’ in the beginning based on the fact that I did not agree with the Province privatizing any part of Hydro One.”
“When the premier said (on Nov. 19) that she’s streamlining the remaining small utilities, it’s like wow, we better take that money and the job security and the rate guarantees. It really came down to the math. But for anyone to say we have not listened, it’s just not true.”
For his part, Mayor Bennett maintained “This is a good deal for this community.”
“It (the council debate) wasn’t so much divisive as it was educational. Six of us analyzed the information and came to a ‘Yes’ vote; five of us analyzed the information and came to a ‘No’ vote. That’s not a divided council. It’s just people looking at the issues in a different fashion and coming to a different conclusion.”
As for Coun. Riel’s push for a referendum in two years, Mayor Bennett noted the value of PDI has decreased $8 million “since these discussions started and it will continue to decrease to the point that we’ll get book value for it. Councillor Clarke hit it dead on … we’re not sustainable at 36,000 customers.”
Ahead, lawyers for Hydro One and PDI will finalize legal documentation covering the sale. After, a public process involving the Ontario Energy Board will commence and take some nine months to complete before Hydro One assumes control of local electricity distribution.